No-cook tomato sauce for the freezer…

No-cook tomato sauce for the freezer…

I don’t have much time, or kitchen space for elaborate preserving projects anymore. So, I have to be really selective and spend my time making the one tomato-y thing that will be quick, flexible, but still remind me in the heart of January that the dark, frozen nights will again be soft and desk, with tomatoes, still warm from the garden. See, that connection to my own Pennsylvania summer is a real spirit lifter – one which canned tomatoes from the supermarket just cannot match.

Elimination thinking makes my decision super-easy; this uncooked tomato sauce, straight from the freezer tastes exactly like summer,  is compact and efficient to store in my freezer, and quick and easy to use in lots of ways later. 

 

Before beginning, I’d like to make this one plea: Resist the urge to chef this one up until you’ve made it once exactly as it is. Yes, it’s a VERY simple, plain recipe, but therein lies the charm. The simplicity allows the special summertime quality of the tomatoes to shine which is exactly why I love it so much. You can add herbs and spices when you use it later if you wish. Oh, and this sauce plain is beautiful with fresh mozzarella… and allows a bit of good olive oil to really shine.

Here’s a link to the more specific recipe.  It makes four servings to be eaten right away but to preserve larger quantities for freezing, simply repeat as many times as you like ( I just figure out how many pounds of tomatoes I have and work it backwards), throw the milled batches together into one large colander, drain over a large bucket then freeze the concentrated sauce in single serving portions.

 

The split skins will peel right away – then toss into your food mill. I use a Roma and run the tomatoes through two or three times to extract every last drop… If you don’t have a food mill, just do your best to skin, seed and chop as finely as you can. The texture won’t be exactly the same, but don’t let that stop you – it’s still going to be awesome.

 

The tomatoes after processing. Add kosher salt and ladle into your cheesecloth lined colander. Maybe you’re not like me with large pieces of cheesecloth lying around. Not to worry, you can use a simple cotton dish towel or pillow case but be prepared for it to be forever stained. I toss my clean cheesecloth into the boiling water for a few minutes before using. Line a colander with the cheesecloth and you’re ready to pour in your tomato mixture. Place the colander over a large bowl or bucket and drain for at least a couple of hours or overnight

 

For me,  one cup portions in freezer bags is the perfect size. One cup feeds two with plenty of  leftovers for the next few days.  Looking at the chicken scratch I wrote on my recipe, apparently I used 24 pounds of tomatoes last year and today I know it was not nearly enough. A word of warning: a little of this sauce goes a long way. I use 2 or 3 Tablespoons to dress a serving of pasta. Really.

Fill your freezer bags, squeeze out any air, and stack flat on a baking sheet or plate to freeze. Onse frozen stiff, the packages can be stacked upright in a container, and are easy to see and access in your freezer, and take little space. 

 

Pouches of finished sauce, in my freezer stash. I freeze this in one cup portions in small freezer bags to use all winter. Thaw it in the bag and gently spoon over cooked pasta tossed with olive oil or butter. If you must heat the sauce, simply warm a little olive oil in a sauce pan and stir in the sauce until just warmed.

 

Because you are straining away most of the water, the volume will be greatly reduced.  I started with a nearly full 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes, and ended up with about 5 cups of sauce. This will vary based on the water content of the tomatoes and the amount of time you leave them drain.

Use your sauce to make summer-fresh Margarita pizzas, toss in the crock pot or dutch oven for a stew or braise, soup, with a pot of beans, anything that can use some fresh tomato flavor. Since the star of this project is the tomato, I wouln’t bother with thick walled, tough-skinned, weak flavored commodity varieties. This is meant as a celebration of the flavor of local, peak-of=freshness, sloppy, flavorful old-fashioned and heirloom varieties.  

 

Home made pasta, uncooked fresh tomato sauce frozen from last summer’s harvest and some good quality parmesan or pecorino – perfection in its simplicity!

 

Also, when you’ve finished making this sauce, especially if you made a bunch for freezing, you’ll have lots of nutritious tomato essence (the water left after straining the tomato solids for the sauce) left.

  • Base for Bloody Marys
  • Braising liquid
  • Reduction for intensely tomato flavored sauces
  • Added flavoring for beer or vodka
  • Base for gazpacho or cocktail sauce
  • Poaching liquid for seafood, shrimp, calamari or lobster
  • Dressing for fresh oysters
  • Marinade for white fish
  • Vinaigrette mix-in
  • Liquid for cooking rice or grains
  • Refreshing chilled beverage served over ice, with basil

 

Or, simply use it in place of any liquid next time you make stock, bread, rice, bulgur, barley or risotto. These are kitchen basics you know you’re going to do anyway, so why not add a little free flavor & nutrient booster?

An icy glass of tomato essence…. yummy and refreshing straight up, and so many great uses in coctails…

The most complicated part of this approach is using a food mill if you have never used one. It makes for a really nice texture and removes the peel and seeds. A food mill is not necessary though, and this sauce will be just as tasty finely chopped by hand.

If you could only do one, what would your single tomato preserving project be? 

A steamy cuppa Valentine Love  ♥️

A steamy cuppa Valentine Love ♥️

Grand gestures are showy, but quiet, small ones are sweeter.

Today is that favorite day of retailers, florists and restauranteurs everywhere, Valentine’s Day.

Here in Pennsylvania,  we’ve been very fortunate here with the mildness of our winter so far  – unlike those of you  suffering some real damage and hardship, we’re mostly just inconvenienced and fatigued.  The kind of weariness that can be soothed with a steamy, creamy cup of home-made cocoa.

I nixxed commercial hot chocolate powders a long time ago in favor of the old-fashioned, off the package Hershey’s cocoa recipe that my mom used to make. Real milk, cocoa, salt, sugar and a bit of vanilla – all things found in an average kitchen. At home, it’s not really any more work, and the results are so worth it. Once you’ve spoiled yourself, you’ll want to keep a pint jar in your fridge at all times.

But then, one day, this really lovely post from Molly at Remedial Eating stopped me in my tracks. Something I had to try ASAP. And I’m so glad I did. This is one of the nicest, sweetest DIY gift ideas around – a jar of chocolate ganache ready to spoon into heated milk for a perfectly delicious, creamy, real cup of steaming cocoa.

Hot Chocolate Base (Ganache)
Yield: 2 generous cups ganache (enough for 2 dozen+ mugs of hot cocoa)

This makes a light ganache (1:1), scoop-able straight from the fridge.  For firm truffles and heartier frostings, a 2:1 chocolate:cream ratio gives greater body and intensity.  FYI.

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized, if possible)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate (3 – 4 oz. bars)

Snap chocolate bars into a large, heat-proof bowl.  Heat cream over medium, until the first bubble breaks, then remove from heat and pour over chocolate shards.  Let sit 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine, 1-2 minutes.  Pour into jar, and refrigerate, up to 1 month.

To Make Hot Cocoa:

Heat milk (2% or whole), as much as you want, over medium heat, until steaming.  (Alternatively, for one mug, microwave).  Add ganache to hot milk: I use 1 heaping tablespoon per 8 ounces of milk, though there are those under my roof who argue 2 tablespoons are far superior.  And no, I don’t measure.  Eyeball it.  Stir ganache into hot milk until dissolved, 10-15 seconds, taste, and add more, if desired.  Pour into mugs, top as desired (whipped cream, marshmallows), wrap fingers ’round, and give thanks for winter.

Who am I kidding?  1-2 TBS? No way. Try 3, or even 4!

So, if you’re still struggling for not-too-big, not-too-small DIY gift ideas, here you go – you still have time. A nice jar of homemade chocolate ganache for a steamy cup of ready-made love for your beloved.

And, if heating milk sounds like too much work, there’s always spoon truffles. Spoon truffles? You know exactly what I’m talking about – no double dipping!

Build a bigger table

Build a bigger table

I have been thinking, even harder than usual, about the affordability of well raised food for those who need it most, the marginalized and low income. And today finds a whole new group of hard working people struggling to put food on the table. Some of us are prospering more than usual, or are maintaining normal, while others are completely devastated.

Honestly? I wish I could simply gift away every single bite of what I raise. This is in fact, a mission driven farm, as much as anything, and the mission is to build a Giving community.  Stories and news features of people waiting in lines for food is seriously killing me. 

At Auburn Meadow Farm, I have always wanted healthful food to be available to the marginalized segments of society. The single parents struggling to access and afford nutrient dense food, those financially struggling because of illness who need clean food more than ever but cannot afford it, or are too ill to even think about cooking. Our seniors, who are seeing their pennies pinched by increased fuel, isolation,  and increased cost of food. So many instances of people in newfound levels of need. 

It is crystal clear that generations will starve waiting for the Powers That Be to create workable programs all Americans will agree upon.  What is inspiring me at the moment is those people who are just sitting down, having an idea, and going out, face to face, and doing it.

Person to person, eyeball to eyeball. Simple solutions.  Why not us?  So, here’s what I’m thinking. A direct, person to person, extension of understanding, solidarity,  and hope. 

How it works:

  • Priority is on seniors, those struggling due to health issues, single moms struggling to feed their kids, and our seniors. 
  • All meats donated are USDA processed, top quality goods – no cast offs. 
  • Update:  Square gift cards are apparently a bad approach for this. Sorry if I confused you, but I’ve gotta go outside and tend the beasts, so stay tuned. I will create a Venmo or other simpler account for this purpose.  If you have already donated, no worries, I  kept track and will forward the money to the new account.  Redeem it with the code BIGGERTABLE, and those funds will be used to gift Auburn Meadow Farm meat to those struggling from economic hardships brought on by COVID.
  • Auburn Meadow Farm will make the most of your dollars by filling the need according to a discounted price scale. 
  • Accountability and transparency – this is a simple idea, finding its legs. A donations newsletter seems to be the most effective way to communicate our progress, though obviously I do not wish to violate anyone’s privacy.
    I would love also to donate meat to an organization capable of turning the meats into cooked meals, easier for those lacking kitchen facilities and time, as a collaborative project.  If you are that organization, reach out. 
  • The first meat will be ready to distribute in January, but funds now to pay for butcher and distribution fees will help kick this off faster, and enable us to go further. We have plenty of pork coming in January, and with enough help, we can be filling pantries by the end of the month. 
  • And, if your food bank or church is in need, and you are able to accomodate frozen meat safely, that is an avenue we can pursue as well.  If you know of someone or something, let me know.

I hope you love this idea as much as I do, and if you would like to work with me to help solidify it into a regular thing, let’s talk!  We need kind and helping hearts on the ground and I can’t think of a better goal for 2021. 

 

 

DIY holidays – a perfectly thoughtful cookie gift

DIY holidays – a perfectly thoughtful cookie gift

What can I do today, before the rush is on, to be ready for last minute gifts, kind neighborly gestures, and unexpected visits? Make recipes for rolls of unbaked refrigerator cookies, portioned into gift-sized logs, wrapped in waxed paper, and stashed in the freezer for gifting or fresh-baked cookies in minutes..

Like many retro, forgotten ways, Icebox cookies add a simple, convenient and downright elegant trick to your pantry that will help preserve that element of snacking spontaneity we all love so much. They come in filled swirls, basic shortbread styles, with and without fruit and can be dipped in chocolate for an extra degree of fanciness.

The logs require almost no time to thaw enough to slice, arrange on a baking sheet, bake & cool. Thoughtfully wrapped with a recipe tag, they make a small and lovely gift. I like that since they have to be baked, you can save them for later, after the overload of sweets and snacks has passed.

Here are three of my current favorite recipes for Icebox cookies:

Salted Rye Cookies

  • Golden  Raisin Icebox Cookies – tender, crisp & rich, these are both rustic and sophisticated.
  • Fruit Swirls – an extra bonus to this one is the recipe uses no processed sugar. Instead, use honey and dried fruit. They’re tender, rich and easily adaptable for a variety of flavors.
  • My current obsession: Salted Rye Cookies. I love crunchy sugar crystals and was completely taken by this idea: these earthy rye rounds are rolled in a crunchy, crystal-ey mixture of coarse sugar and salt. Brilliant.

And, not just a DIY gift idea, icebox cookies are a great everyday pantry trick for anyone interested in real foods.

Fruit Swirls, no sugar. One recipe, divided into four logs, wrapped in waxed paper for gifting or baking.

Why do I love prepared snacks in my freezer?

  • simple strategy for portion control – divide the dough into smaller logs and only bake what you need
  • a quick, fun after school treat kids can make themselves
  • something special on hand to feed unexpected visitors
  • strategy to keep those overly processed commercial cookies out of your pantry
  • your kid tells you at 9 pm they need to bring cookies to class tomorrow – no biggie

In these days of pandemic, old fashioned neighboring is more meaningful than ever. What sweeter way to check on your neighbors than by gifting them a thoughtful log of ready-to-bake cookies?

What’s in season: Celebrating strawberries with homemade Strawberrycello

What’s in season: Celebrating strawberries with homemade Strawberrycello

 

If I was going to name one skill to master to save money and really intensify the flavors of your home cooking, it would be to deeply start exploring the juices. We throw away so much flavor and nutrition because we don’t value that extra bit of juice in the pan. Yet we will buy a separate spice or sauce to do exactly what that discarded juice will do if you would only recognize it.

Seasonal fruit is a great example of how harnessing the power and flavor of those natural peak-of-freshness juices makes your cooking extraordinary. Most recipes solve the issue of too juicy in pies and jams by cooking the fruits down, and adding thickener. But reverse that thinking, and slow down your process, and I think you will be amazed at the difference.

Got my first strawberries from the local Amish farmer a couple days ago. Plain, simple, straight-up strawberry jam may be one of my very, very favorite kitchen staples. But last year, I made this. And it’s a pretty wonderful way to celebrate that unmistakable flavor of a fresh, ripe, local strawberry in January. And a really excellent DIY gift idea, if you are inclined to think ahead that way.

Strawberrycello

  • 2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced, or 1-1/2 pounds frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1-1/2 cups Simple Syrup*
  • 1 fifth vodka, 80 – 100 proof

Muddle the strawberries and simply syrup with a wooden spoon in a half-gallon jar. Stir in the vodka. 

Seal the jar and put it in a cool, dark cabinet until the liquid smells and tastes strongly of strawberries, about 7 days.

Strain the mixtue with a mesh strainer into a clean quart jar. Do not push on the solids to extract more liquid – it will make your Strawberrycello cloudy. 

Note: If you feel your berries may have been a little overripe, and the flavor of your liquor seems a little flat, add a Tablespoon of strawberry or raspberry vinegar to restore the balance.  

Seal and store in a cool, dark cabinet. Use within 1 year. 

Perfect for sipping on a summer day, for spiking a cosmo, mixing with a summery white wine like Prosecco – don’t forget to chill the glass! 

From the very fun book, Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits by Andrew Schloss. 

Martha will show you how to make herb sugar here.

 

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Oinkers: pork burgers with pineapple salsa

Oinkers: pork burgers with pineapple salsa

Tomorrow is Father’s Day, have you got a plan? Steak, steak, steak, kind of expected. But these unique burgers are something everyone will like, are less expensive, still fun and special, and pretty foolproof.  Oinkers are made from unseasoned ground pork mixed with ground smoked & cured ham –  a spin off that classic rural family favorite; ham loaf.

Traditional ham loaf is a little sweet for me, but I knew there was something modern and extraordinary there. So, by eliminating a lot of the sugar, substituting saltines for the traditional graham cracker binder, adding the smoky flavor only a charcoal grill can create, and topped with a spicy pineapple salsa, I am pretty pleased with this incarnation.

A brioche, or other soft white, bun is great, white American cheese is perfect, and basting the burgers with Stubbs Original BBQ sauce added a nice, tangy, peppery flavor, though I loved the plain, unabated burgers just as much.

I actually don’t eat my burgers on a bun –  I prefer a bed of chopped salad or slaw with the salsa and rice. All straight from the fridge is a nice cold lunch for a sweltering day. See? No rules. Just like the best kind of summer day.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 slice bone-in cured ham, 1.5#
  • 1 pound unseasoned ground pork
  • 1/3 cup crushed saltines
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 TBS spicy brown mustard
  • BBQ sauce – optional
  • White American cheese slices – optional
  • Buns and your favorite burger fixings – shredded lettuce, tomato, etc.  I used shredded lettuce, scallion greens, and pineapple salsa.

Directions:

Cut the ham into chunks, removing the bone, and pulse in a food processor until finely ground. Mix with the ground pork, cracker crumbs, eggs and mustard in a large bowl until well combined – but don’t overword the meat. – and refrigerate at least an hour, or overnight.

Form the meat into six to eight patties. On a greased grill* rack at medium high direct heat, grill the burgers for 5-6 minutes, flip, and gril another 2-4 minutes. Baste with your favorite BBQ sauce if you wish to add another layer of flavor, I liked the peppery flavory of Stubbs Original, but the plain oinker was pretty great.

Add cheese and melt, remove  burgers from the grill when the internal temp is 160° F.

Assemble and serve.